Friday, October 18, 2013

My Big Fat Lebanese Family

So apparently I missed my one year anniversary of when I started writing this blog, which was last month.  Huh.  I guess I have just been caught up in surviving what life has been throwing at me that I did not stop to see how much has changed since I began.  I remember when I first went public with this blog I posted twice a week and had about 50 readers and was sooo excited- like, did fifty of you really care what I actually had to say??  Now there are nearly 800 of you who tune in every week and the number just keeps climbing.  When I first saw the numbers growing like that I was shocked.  I am just so incredibly humbled, as I am pretty sure I do not even know that many people, let alone have anything worthwhile to say to such a crowd.

And yet you read.  Thank you.  Thank you for letting me use my voice.

In the upcoming weeks I will give this past year it's due diligence, but for now I want to stretch out the feelings from this past weekend as long as they will last.

Because I did it.  I met Chris Niles.  I took a train and with the exception of a few delays (all on the train's part I might add), all went very well.  I spent two days camped out at the Niles' house just hanging out with them and relaxing.  Because of how limited I am physically, they were very considerate as to how we were going to spend our time.  In fact, I actually felt bad because- (and I kid you not)- we literally spent all of our time laying on couches.  I found it to be like heaven because we got to just talk and drift in and out of sleep and as pathetic as it sounds, it was the perfect level of activity for me.  Jennifer (Chris' wife) has a HUGE Lebanese family and from her own description they are much like the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  Let me tell you, they are amazing.  All day people just kind of popped in and out (and this was with her only telling a couple of them so as not to overwhelm me!!)  I felt like I was with family.  They would come in and just snuggle up on a couch and we would talk like we have been related to each other all our lives.  They are truly an amazing group of people and I count myself blessed to say that I know them.

These past few months of getting close with Chris and Jen have changed my life.  They have become part of my every day and my thoughts are never far from them.  My heart is a vault and I keep it very well hidden- I have been that way all my life.  To word it properly I will pull an excerpt from an old post of mine: "I will socialize with complete strangers and will pretty much talk to my friends about any topic under the sun.  I don't shy away from personal conversations and have no problems airing out my flawed life for all of you to read.  But despite all that, there is a place in my heart that is immensely private.  It's where I go frequently to "be alone."  As honest and open as I am with others, this is a part of me that will never come out.  In it I hold things that are most dear to me...people, thoughts and feelings whose depth would be cheapened anywhere else but deep in my heart. I will let anyone into my life...But I can count the number of people on one hand who I have walked into my heart."  

When I met Chris it took me completely by surprise because I was not prepared for the place he would so quickly occupy in my life.  God walked him right into my heart.  In that place where nobody goes- in that private, deep place where in my entire life there will only ever be a precious few- there he is.

That's forever.  Chris and Jen will forever be a part of my life.  I will love them and pray for them and you can bet I am already tying to find a way to see them again!  As Jeff put it the moment I walked in the door, "Yes, I am aware that you will probably be making plans to go back there and visit sometime next year!"  And besides, I believe I have about 342 more cousins to meet so I'm thinking that of course I need to go back.  

My sincerest thanks to Chris and Jen for an amazing time and for your incredible generosity.  And thank you to everyone I met for making me feel so instantly loved and welcomed.  So nice to meet you Kathy, Jeff and Leighann, I was nervous I wasn't going to get to see you and I'm so glad I did!  And to you Lorraine, Raymond, Maria, Leah, and Amy- you who I have seen and heard so much about and had been dying to meet!! You were so loving, kind and so wonderful to me, I could not help but feel like we were family- I would love nothing more than to see you again.  (Raymond you still owe me a good debate!)  Carlo, I had been looking forward to meeting you, and I am so glad I did.  You are a wonderful person and it only took one night for me to see that.  Thank you for looking out for me...I cannot wait to see you again, hopefully soon.  Liz, you are so beautiful and bold- remember that the challenges and hardships that life brings are meant to bring us closer to Him.  These are the times where we find out that God is everything He promised He would be...if you have the courage to continue to pursue Him in an even deeper way.  Grandma taught you that. And a very special shout out to Braden Niles for your empathy, your kindness and for basically getting me anything I needed...and for the bracelets you made me!!  

And now for the fun stuff!!!  The following is my video interview with Chris Niles broken up into three brief videos and then after that is a barrage of pictures!  Chris answered a bunch of questions that I asked him about being paralyzed   Now bear with me on the interview- we had been up since 4am.  We had to get up very early to drive to the train station, so there we are sitting in the car in the dark...Chris is tired after getting up crazy early and driving over an hour and a half, and I am a mix of tired and overtired/wired.  He did perfect, but I got a little nutty and I could have asked more questions but I thought I was gonna miss my train even though it got delayed an hour I just didn't realize it.  MY POINT IS, we had been up since 4am, so cut us some slack, even though he doesn't need it but I do so give it to me!! ENJOY!!  

Interview Part 1- What were your hardest adjustments? What were your easiest adjustments? What was something you thought would be hard but turned out to be easy?  (FYI- no, paralyzed people do not drive british cars, I was filming on my computer and it makes everything look mirror image)

Interview Part 2- If I see a paralyzed person struggling should I go help them?  Are all places with a ramp really handicap accessible?  How did you and I meet?

Interview Part 3- What was it like stuck under the tree?  What was going through your mind? What did you think when you heard that first car pull into the driveway and you knew someone was finally coming?  (Chris was trapped all alone under the tree that paralyzed him for 4 hours before he was finally found)

Ok TECHNICALLY this isn't Jen's family but she assured me that had I met all of them at once it would have resembled this scene, so just pretend Ian's parents are me and everyone else is Jen's family this is what it would have looked like had we all met!!!

Ok, here are picture from my trip!!!  

This is me getting ready to leave for the train station

Saying goodbye to Jeffy poo

Terrified I was going to get on the wrong train and end up in Canada

On the right train!!

Chilling in Buffalo where I had a few hour layover 

My train got delayed so poor Chris was waiting at the station at 2:30am and by the time he drove me to the hotel it was after 5 in the morning.  

Finally made it to the hotel where Chris was dropping me off.  Despite the picture, he actually was very friendly lol

A few hours later at the Niles' house!!! There is Chris and his wife Jen who is barely 5 feet tall and looks like she is about 16 lol

Braden, the most awesome 11 year old on the planet

Jen curled up on the couch

Chris wrapped up in what appeared to be a shawl

Closer look at Chris and his shawl


Braden!! This boy spent the entire time I was there hanging out with us and asking me if I needed anything.  He was also working on making these great bracelets...he was quite determined! 

Here was one of the two he made me!!!!

This is what we did the whole weekend, it seriously was amazing!!

Jeff was looking at the pictures and he said he almost didn't recognize me with the weird hair and glasses- that's code for 'why do you look so ugly?' lol  I tried to explain to him that we were spending our time laying around relaxing and napping but whatever, haha

Just wanted ONE nice picture and I couldn't do it!

Braden and Jen

Chris driving

Me and Jen (apparently with me looking 'weird' again, lol)

Me and Brady selfie


The only time we left the house was to go out to eat.  This was my first time ever seeing middle eastern food and it was amazing!! Braden was teaching me what everything was, and I remember a lot of it and I took pic to show you!  These are called grape leaves and they are filled with something I just don't remember what :)

This is raw meat!

Chris is eating the same thing I got, which was chicken, salad and rice which sounds really plain but the taste was so incredible!

This was my plate you can get a good look- there are two different kinds of dipping sauces on the sides and they were both kinds of garlic.  They were soooo good, I loved it and since Jeff wasn't with me I didn't have to worry about the garlic and kissing factor, lol

Braden going at some kind of dessert.  It was very sweet and yummmmmmmy

Again, what kind of 11 year orders lamb???  Braden, thats who!! Brady got a mix of things- lamb, kibbee, grape leaves.  

Chris, me and Carlo.  Chris and Carlo are best friends, it was so great to meet him he is such a wonderful guy. The whole time I was there he checked up on me and made sure I was ok.

Rico suave

Chris wearing Braden's hat

Liz (Jen's cousin), Jen, and me

Braden making us waffles for breakfast!

This is Braden buttering my waffle for me- so sweet!

Here is the Niles family- Braden, Chris, Christopher, and Jen

Another me and Brady selfie

Chris on the floor attacking/hugging Braden

Jen and Chris chilling  (mind you, I am taking all these pictures from the chaise lounge I was laying in that was set up for me!)

Overhead shot of Chris.  Nice.

This is how Braden was making some of his bracelets.  Kid has talent.

Jen and her brother Raymond.  He claims he likes a good debate but I don't  know what happened- I'm an easy target and I got nothing.  Must have been being polite ;)

Hanging out

Cousins Maria and Leah with Chris and Jen

Chris frying on the stove.  We told him if he was gonna splatter oil to do it on his legs- at least it won't hurt.


Maria, Leah, and Chris

Jen and a rare Christopher sighting!  (hey I don't blame him- he is a 13 year old boy whose house was invaded all weekend by some strange lady camped out on the couch) 

Maria and Jen

Chris, Maria, Jen, and Brady

Leah and Braden held the bike up while Chris fixed the chain

Look here boys, you're never too old to love your momma

Chris standing up looking really tall

Braden and Chris

Hanging out outside

Braden brining Chris' chair out

Chris basking in the sunlight lol

I think Jen was trimming her hair, lol  Im telling you, they are literally the best people on the planet!

The Niles family!

Another selfie with Braden!

Cousin Loraine and Chris

After she realized I was taking pictures lol

Me and Loraine

What happens to Chris when he falls asleep after teaching me how to use a new app on my phone

Chris with his sister Leighann and his mother Kathy

Amy and me- Amy is the one you always see with Chris at all his races- she trains with him and goes to races with him. Wish I would have had longer- love you Amy!! 

Amy (I took a cute picture of Tricia and Chris but it came out all blurry, I was so disappointed!!  And next time Jeff will not be so lucky as to escape ending up in one of my pictures!)

Me and Jen representing team Niles- i was dying for one of these shirts!!!

Chris took off his shirt when we came inside- who knew wheeling around was such a good workout???? hahahaha

21st century train tracks right Chris?

At the train station trying to hold it together.  So much love in so little time- and then I had to leave it.

Thank you for enjoying my trip with me, I will see you next Friday.

**UPDATE: As I was putting the final touches on this post, Mike (the man I met and talked with on the train ride) got in touch with me via this blog and e-mail.  I am thrilled to say the least- I think it is a wonderful thing in life when we are able to make meaningful connections with one another.  For that, you get another shout out Mike! ;)

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